Protesters who have shut down traffic on a key bridge between the United States and Canada for nearly a week walked out Saturday under heavy police pressure, signaling the apparent end to a blockade that has threatened to cripple the auto industry and become a world symbol of opposition to coronavirus. vaccination restrictions and mandates.
Protesters, many carrying Canadian flags (some strung from hockey sticks), began to withdraw peacefully early Saturday morning as a phalanx of police advanced toward their ranks from the entrance and exit lanes of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ontario, with Detroit, has been blocked by a collection of trucks, vans and large SUVs since Monday.
On Friday, an Ontario provincial judge ordered the approaches to the bridge to be cleared, but that only seemed to draw more people on foot to the bustling protest site, which featured a makeshift food stall and blaring rock tunes on the sidewalks. speakers. Some brought their children and pets.
Some participants complained of losing their jobs because they refused to get vaccinated or comply with mask mandates. Many spoke of how their children have suffered from missing in-person school.
“These restrictions have hurt so many people, put so many out of work, it’s really terrible,” said Jennifer Handsor, 31, a Windsor resident who was at the site Friday with her 9-year-old daughter. “This is not what Canada is about, dividing people in this way.”
A main target has been Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government, which has backed pandemic restrictions that have generally been tighter than those in many parts of the country. United States, although polls have mostly shown support among Canadians for their government’s actions.
Canada’s death rate from COVID-19 is about one-third that of the United States. More than 85% of all Canadians are fully vaccinated, compared to 65% in the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Protesters have also taken to the streets of the Canadian capital, Ottawa, and have blocked other border crossings with the United States.
Truckers honking here and elsewhere in Canada have inspired similar demonstrations in Europe and elsewhere, but police action on Saturday helped thwart a threat to lockdown Paris, the Associated Press reported.
Dozens of trucks and other vehicles arrived in The Hague for a similar protest on Saturday, the AP said, blocking the entrance to the historic Dutch parliament complex.
The nearly century-old Ambassador Bridge, the busiest commercial crossing along the US-Canadian border, carries about a quarter of all goods traded annually between the two nations. Some $50 million worth of auto parts crosses the gap each day, according to industry estimates.
The shortage derived from the blockade in recent days has led General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Chrysler to temporarily close plants or cancel shifts. Smaller auto parts suppliers and related companies also saw reduced business. President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Trudeau on Friday expressing the urgency of reopening the bridge.
In Windsor, a city of 230,000 that has long relied on cross-border trade, the economic effect has contributed to considerable resistance to the protests.
“I respect the right of people to protest, but this lockdown is hurting a lot of average workers, not just CEOs,” said Jonathan LoMedico, 39, who runs a body shop in Windsor. “The auto industry is absolutely essential to the economy here.”
The so-called Freedom Convoy has found supporters among Republican figures in the United States, including former President Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
As police entered Saturday, protesters sought a reprieve from officers, who donned yellow vests, masks and knit hats in sub-zero temperatures, but the protesters ultimately backed off as police slowly moved toward them. Officials warned that vehicles deployed as barricades to block the bridge would be towed away and violators could be arrested.
The departing protesters reluctantly left in their pickup trucks and SUVs, along with several large rigs, which had clogged the bridge over the Detroit River.
Although the protests began with truck drivers attacking vaccination mandates and other restrictions related to COVID-19, the demonstration soon expanded to include people from various occupations. Many complained of being forced to receive vaccines they didn’t trust and objected to rules on wearing masks.
“This may be over, but I think they got our message,” said a woman brandishing a pair of Canadian flags on Saturday and a sign that read “No Mandates.”
Protesters chanted “Freedom!” as police advanced, with some breaking into a version of the Canadian national anthem.
A protester who gave his name only when Paul repeatedly pleaded with police to back off, saying their actions were “harming Canada” and eroding individual freedoms.
“You should be ashamed!” he called out to her, walking past the slowly advancing police lines. “The whole world is watching!”
But pleas from him and others were in vain as dozens of police, backed by at least two tactical vehicles, advanced on the protest site. The police operation appeared to go smoothly and without violence.
Elsewhere in Canada, protesters against coronavirus restrictions gathered in Toronto in front of the provincial legislature on Saturday, while protesting truckers maintained their large presence in Ottawa, the capital.
— Special correspondent Denis Calnan in Toronto contributed to this report.